America in the 1770s witnessed a revolutionary atmosphere of fear and loathing as the colonists dared to break away from the mighty British Empire. Benjamin Franklin famously summarized their potential demise, saying, “Either we will hang together, or we will hang separately.” Thank God the Founding Fathers had the courage to stand on godliness, principle and truth above even their own lives.
Indeed, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence would not be viewed by King George and the British Empire as an invitation to negotiate secession, but as an act of war – and so eight bloody years of the Revolutionary War (1775-83) would follow.
In contrast to the valiant courage of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, the following are three historical examples of men who chose expediency over principle and careerism over courage:
Martin Van Buren: creator of political patronage (payola)
The impending statehood bill for Missouri as a slave state in 1819 put the republic at the precipice of the abyss. However, while others saw a potential national catastrophe, the Machiavellian New York state senator, vice president and eighth president, Martin Van Buren, a leader of the “Bucktail” group of Jeffersonian Republicans, saw a golden opportunity. According to historian Donald B. Cole, Van Buren cared less about the evils of slavery than he feared that the opponents of slavery in Missouri would “bring the politics of the slave states and … their supporters in the free states into disrepute through inflammatory assaults on the institution of slavery.”
As a “moderate” on the slavery issue (his slave having run away in 1813) Van Buren worked with other Bucktails to create a corrupt political machine that predated Tammany Hall and the Chicago Way, called the “Albany Regency.” As early as 1819, Van Buren began using the rule: to the victor belong the spoils – the spoils in this case was political patronage. Thus the spoils system, including crony capitalism and payola, was created by Van Buren.
According to historian Larry Schweikart, for almost 200 years, virtually as long as the republic existed, “the practice of giving jobs to the election winner’s friends constituted a tool in the politician’s arsenal by which he could reward supporters.” Paradoxically, the very catastrophe the spoils system was designed to ameliorate (the negative economics of slavery) 40 years later “would help bring on the pivotal and decisive conflict over slavery” – the Civil War (1861-65).
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney
Jefferson, although a lifelong slave owner, intrinsically knew that this “peculiar institution” of slavery was not only evil, but economically and socially unsustainable. He wrote very eloquently and passionately against America’s original sin.
In an 1820 correspondence to William Jarvis, Jefferson wrote: “To consider … judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.”
Although not about slavery per se but about judicial activism leading to judicial tyranny, nevertheless Jefferson’s warning would foreshadow the most notorious act of liberal judicial activism in the case Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which would affirm the constitutionality of slavery and the Missouri Compromise while igniting the bloodiest war in American history just four short years later.
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney could have stood tall and used Natural Law to defend the unalienable and natural rights of blacks to equality and their God-given human right to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” yet Taney chose the path to perdition, writing for the majority in Dred Scott: “The negro has no rights that the white man was bound to respect.”
Over 600,000 corpses later, who was right: Jefferson’s Natural Law jurisprudence or Justice Taney’s hate-mongering demagoguery rooted in legal positivism?
Does the Elastic Clause = the Welfare State?
Since the advent of the judicial doctrine substantive due process first articulated in Dred Scott, liberal activist judges have wreaked untold havoc to the rule of law by ignoring the plain meaning of the Constitution and the original intent of the constitutional framers to substitute judges’ own personal policy preferences. One of the most infamous is the Supreme Court’s expansion and perversion of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 18: “… To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper …” That simple phrase (along with “provide for the … general Welfare”) has been used by the Court, Congress and every progressive president from Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Hoover, FDR, LBJ, Bush, Obama to others to expand government powers beyond the strictures of the Constitution.
For example, prior to 1811, when a massive earthquake struck New Madrid County in Missouri, no one ever asked the government for relief from natural disasters, but three years later in 1814, according to Schweikart: “Congress provided grants from public lands to relocate people whose farms or business were destroyed. Speculators moved in like locusts, and over the next 30 years, courts attempted unsuccessfully to sort out the claims. A ‘New Madrid claim’ became ‘a synonym for fraud.'”
The 1900 Galveston Hurricane, the 1906 Great San Francisco Earthquake, the Dayton Flood of 1913, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Gulf of Mexico oil leak of 2010, all serve as convenient pretexts for Machiavellian politicians to use the “necessary and proper” clause or the general-welfare clause to justify federal government usurpation of power not enumerated to it under the Constitution. However, President Grover Cleveland when pressured to support a “compassionate” seed-corn bill Congress passed in 1887, said: “… [T]hough the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.”
Courage vs. cowardice – these three pivotal episodes of American history have shown us that it is tyranny not wisdom, supreme cowardice not courage, to place expediency above principle.
In commemorating America’s 234th birthday, would to God that President Obama, Congress and the courts would follow this simple axiom: Absent the rule of law, the president, Congress and the liberal activist judge have no rights that Natural Law, the Constitution and We the People are bound to respect.